It's hard not to develop a fondness for printed documentation when your one PC dies and you have no access to online manuals.

One such worst-case scenario recently occurred when the PC I was working on refused to boot. Instead it issued a beep code which I didn't know how to decipher. Since I had no other machines handy, I called up a friend and had him look things up for me.

Whenever I stumble across something that can spare others the same pain I've experienced, I like to share it. Casey Luttrull, a 26-year-old IT manager who runs a blog site called

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CaseyTech.com, has put together a pocket guide to BIOS beep codes in PDF format. Print it out, fold it in half and you've got quick access to the startup error sounds for major BIOS makers such as American Megatrends Inc. (AMI), Award and Phoenix Technologies.

Different beeps for different boards

Since each motherboard maker uses totally different error codes, what you've learned with one board probably won't apply to another. (For instance, AMI motherboards use a straight series of beeps, while those with Phoenix and Award BIOSes use groups of beeps to signify different kinds of errors.)

The guide suggests the likeliest solution to each error condition. But be forewarned: A good deal of the recommended advice may amount to replacing the motherboard. Also, don't leap to conclusions based on the guide lists. Rather, use it in conjunction with other evidence you can gather (such as a plug-in diagnostic card) to find out what might really be wrong. But as a quick and free offline reference, it's hard to go wrong with this guide.

The linked page provides you with references to full beep code summaries (generally in .PDF format) for those three motherboard makers. It might not hurt to have those handy as well, and take the shorter guide with you for remote repairs.

About the author: Serdar Yegulalp is editor of the Windows Insight, (formerly the Windows Power Users Newsletter), a blog site devoted to hints, tips, tricks and news for users and administrators of Windows NT, Windows 2000, Windows XP, Windows Server 2003 and Vista. He has more than 12 years of Windows experience under his belt, and contributes regularly to SearchWinComputing.com and SearchSQLServer.com.

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